Saturday, July 10, 2010

Science goes to dinner

I'd like to thank Sumdood for submitting this important research:

From the Journal Obesity:

Eating behavior and obesity at Chinese buffets.

Wansink B, Payne CR. Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA.


RESULTS: Patrons with higher levels of BMI were more likely to be associated with using larger plates vs. smaller plates (OR 1.16, P < 0.01) and facing the buffet vs. side or back (OR 1.10, P < 0.001). Patrons with higher levels of BMI were less likely to be associated with using chopsticks vs. forks (OR 0.90,P < 0.05), browsing the buffet before eating vs. serving themselves immediately (OR 0.92, P < 0.001), and having a napkin on their lap vs. not having a napkin on their lap (OR 0.92, P < 0.01). Patrons with lower BMIs left more food on their plates (10.6% vs. 6.0%, P < 0.05) and chewed more per bite of food (14.8 vs. 11.9, P < 0.001).

Dr. Grumpy comments:

Now, I know some of you are rolling your eyes at this remarkable piece of research, which basically boils down to "obese people eat more than thin people". But lets think for a minute about the research methods, and what they say about the things people will do to get published:

1. Some poor sucker of a graduate student was told to hang out at the local Chinese buffet.

2. This person had to carefully watch who took what size plates, who was using chopsticks, where people had their napkins, and (most horrifically) actually had to time (was a stopwatch involved?) how long other patrons spent chewing their food.

3. After people left the restaurant (or returned to the buffet) this person had to go make notes on how much partially-eaten food was left on plates (wouldn't this attract the suspicion of other diners? Or even the place's manager?).

4. I want to know how ANYONE, fat or thin, is able to serve themselves by going down the buffet with their back to it (1st sentence of the abstract). Certainly you'll lose weight if you're not going to take food. But if you're not going to eat anything, what's the point of going to a restaurant in the first place?

5. While it's not noted in the abstract, did the department at least reimburse this poor sucker for going to the restaurant? I personally think that should be covered under the research budget. And, if multiple trips to the restaurant were required to write the paper, how much weight did the author gain (or lose) during that time?

6. Do these findings hold up at other buffet types? Like pizza, Mongolian barbecue, or Las Vegas?

7. Can I volunteer to do similar research on a cruise ship (if the department is paying for it, of course)?


Anonymous said...

For the record, I think "facing the buffet" (from what I can tell from the abstract, I didn't read the full text) refers to how they're sitting at the table of their choice, rather than how they approach the buffet itself.

But yeah, regardless, this is a pointless study. And I'm very concerned about the grad student, who also apparently had to count how many times a patron chewed a bite of food before swallowing. The glamorous world of "research" is... Not so glamorous.

Anonymous said...

Except that fat people don't necessarily eat more than thin people ... so even that as a 'finding' is wrong. And it's not possible to know someone's bmi just from looking at them (source), so unless the researcher asked every customer in the buffet for their height and weight, the study is majorly flawed.

ERP said...

You could monitor the Diet Coke dispenser.

Sarah Blue said...

I actually lost twenty pounds just by using a smaller plate. It made me think about my food more. I also cut portions smaller, so it felt like I was eating more.

Anonymous said...

I agree with "anonymous": " refers to how they're sitting at the table of their choice, rather than how they approach the buffet itself". Talk about a poorly worded sentence in the abstract though!

Moose said...

Oh my frakkin head. Garbage like this makes my head pound.

Here is the actual study:

The "trained observers" *GUESSED* people's weight, height and age, based on photos and a "body shape chart" given to use as guidelines. I'm sorry, what? This is "science"? A dart board might have been more accurate.

Then they go in with assumptions. Fat people face the buffet because they apparently want to see the food and drool over it. Fat people don't sit in booths because they're too fat to fit. Fat people don't put napkins in their lap. Fat people don't use chopsticks, apparently because we prefer to use the giant serving spoons, but only because we can't mainline the food. [Ok, it doesn't say that. Exactly.]

They "measured" how well people chewed their food. Fat people didn't chew as much. But wait! Only one person monitored food chewing, and they only watched for the first 10 bites of food. After that it was assumed that if someone shoveled in the first 10 bites they shoveled in the rest.

Then they draw amazing conclusions that basically reinforce the usual fat people stereotypes: We sit around eating cookies instead of fruit (plus, you know, nobody overeats fruit!) and if we see food in front of us we have to eat it. OM NOM NOM, don't sit still, I might have to eat you!

Really, what boils my brain isn't that this type of "study" is done, it's that this type of CRAP is published in allegedly peer-reviewed journals. (Where, here, "peer-reviewed" means "I have the same bias as you do.")

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go "overeat" some advil for this pounding headache.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever been to Ithaca, NY? Hanging out at the Chinese buffet and watching people eat is probably what the grad students do for fun anyway.

Anonymous said...

Please notice this sentence:
"Following Institutional Review Board approval, 22 trained observers coded the behavior of 213 patrons at 11 all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet restaurants across the United States."
There were 22 grad students watching each other eat at 11 different Chinese feed troughs. Don't you think this counts as part of the grad student travel budget?

CandyGirl said...

Why are we still using BMI as an indicator for healthy/obese standards? It's been proven time and time again that this silly measurement does not take into account muscle to fat ratios.

Silly, wasteful study.

Oh, and I totally use chopsticks if they are available because I love them - even though I'm a fattie.

Michelle Roger said...

I collected spit samples from my demented participants as part of my research. Vials of drool vs sitting in a restaurant. I clearly picked the wrong topic!

RehabNurse said...

I think I would happily be an observer at any buffet if it counted as work time, cruise ship or not.

Sure beats smelling what I have to smell daily!

Anonymous said...

I'm not familiar with this study in particular, but Brian Wansink is a highly-respected researcher and on the strength of that, I'd at least review it in more detail before I rejected it out of hand.

I recommend his book "Mindless Eating." (and no, I'm not related to him)

stacey said...

Someone is desperate to keep a grant/publish or perish..

John the Scientist said...

When I was a Navy contractor, there was a guy doing e. coli research ( you would not believe the amount of feces generated in a ship the size of an aircraft carrier)who, for some reason, needed cow shit fresh from the till - it could not hit the ground first. So some undergrad researcher had to go to the research barn every day with a loooong rubber glove, reach in, and extract some poo. (I still supect the PI might have been...shitting...the poor undergrad).

At the yearly update meeting, he was all happy about getting a co-authorship, and the rest of us grad students and post-docs were all "duuuuude, there is an easier way to get your name on a paper".

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